Since 2010 I’ve been visiting Sydney’s beaches in alphabetical order. I’ve reached number 52: Mona Vale.
Replicating a structure I’ve been using in my recent posts from my bicycle trip over Anzac Day Week – I’ve split this post into three sections: my story of visiting the beach – which in this case is an annual review of how life is going, a bit about Mona Vale, and then the practical details of how I got there and where I ate, etc.
My first winter solstice beach visit had real substance. I was closing out a year in which my marriage disintegrated and looking towards a year in which I would reset the direction of my life. My following winter solstice was a northern one – I was in Krakow, Poland, so no beaches. I missed 2016 – I simply forgot how good it is to go to the beach on the winter solstice. Last year I remembered and made the journey to Malabar Beach (No. 48).
When I’d gone to Great Mackerel (No. 22) in 2014 I went with a ceremony in mind, one I replicated at Malabar. I noted the best and worst things of the year gone and, then, destroyed the list. The good and bad alike were equally past. With the solstice comes the beginning of more light coming into the world, well my half of the world, and a good time to be expansive and hopeful.
This year is a bit different I was to find.
When I set off for Mona Vale (No. 52) I hadn’t quite, as yet, finished reading through my diaries from the year. I read them on the long bus ride up there. And read them over lunch. And I read them with coffee. And I didn’t find ups and downs as much as patterns.
Let me tell you about the day and what I found.
I meant to get to Mona Vale during the summer but, honestly, it’s a long way from home and I just never got the momentum up to make the journey. But I like the Winter Solstice beach tradition and that put the oomph in my get up and go. That and the glorious winter sun and clear blue sky which greet me on the morning of 23 June (two days after the solstice).
It takes a couple of hours, and two bus rides, to get from my home in Newtown to Mona Vale. As I get my bearings, I’m struck afresh by the culture variations found within this thing called Sydney. I’m not speaking of ethnic variation, even, although that features prominently across our many suburbs. Newtown residents are mostly white; Mona Vale residents are mostly white – in both places many people are Australian born. But the innate vibe is so different – this is a classically suburban place full of single-family homes, and car-commutes, by the beach.
Armchair Collective looked promising on line and more so in person. My salad is hyper-healthy and tasty (details below). To my left a young family with a fussing bub, to my right two young uni students studying for a test, at a nearby table a couple in their 60s lingering over their coffees and the weekend newspapers. A surfer – wetsuit peeled down off his torso – wanders in for a coffee. The scene is not that different from a café in Newtown – except for the surfer, of course – but yet it feels different, just a bit foreign for me.
Surfers and swimmers come from the beach. I’m impressed how many are in the water – most so by this quite mature man in nothing but his Speedos and drops of drying ocean. I do love Sydney’s 365-days-a-year swimmers.
Mostly the beach is empty and quiet. Some families with small children poking around in the tidepools, a freckling of surfers waiting on waves, a pair of fluro-clad rock fishermen. The pale, gibbous moon hangs ghostly in an almost cobalt sky.
I like this variation on marking the ending of (and the beginning of) the year. New Years is too close to Christmas, too summery, too full of existing imposed ideas of closing and opening. My winter solstice beaches are quiet, personal, and peaceful.
I breathe and watch the waves roll in and think of the year gone by.
I’ve spent the year employed, full-time, in an office role – for the first time this century. One of the first things I notice in reviewing my diaries since June of 2017 is how often I’ve been battling with my own discomfort in the role, my own unhappiness at being in a full-time job. The diaries are full of observations about how fast time is moving, and not in a good way. Of how I’m just not finding my way to excel in, and enjoy, the gig.
I take this unease with me to Bronze Kiosk for a coffee in the lengthening shadows of the Norfolk Island Pines.
I suppose the best things of the year have been: I have begun to settle into the job and the idea of having a job even if I still fight with it. I’ve become a lot, or a bit, better about [a man who shall remain nameless and distant]. I can see that – even as it still plagues me some. My finances are improved and less uncertain; I’ve paid something like A$12,000 to my US student loans. I’ve read a lot. I’ve written a lot – or, well, I have written and improved my relationship with my writing. I’ve seen a lot of movies. I’ve socialised. On balance, I’ve looked after myself reasonably well.
I suppose the worst thing of the last year are the flip sides of many of the good things: I’m still a bit plagued by [a man who shall remain nameless and distant]. I still fight with my job. I still berate myself for not doing a better job making and following plans. For not getting more done. For not eating better, being fitter, etc. I still haven’t met any men who are available and local.
I walk back to the Mona Vale shops into the setting sun and have a quick beer at Modus Operandi Brewing before beginning the long journey home – bus to Manly, ferry to Circular Quay, train to Macdonaldtown.
As I push on in my review of my diaries I’m struck how internal they are – they are almost entirely about my internal life: my thoughts about my job, [the man who shall remain nameless], the absence of opportunities to meet local men. There is little about the world around me, current events, movies seen, meals eaten, etc.
They are also way too self-critical – not getting up early enough, not writing enough, not trying hard enough to make dating apps work for me, not loving my job. I need to do less of that – I’m good, my life is good – berating myself for its imperfections won’t make it better.
So, I’ll end on the positive – it has been a lovely day. I get a lot of what I wanted to get done, done: I wrote, I ran, I went to Mona Vale – had a nice lunch, a visit to the beach, a coffee, a beer. Came home via Manly and the ferry. Did my laundry, changed the bedding, watched a little Masters of Sex, a little Rugby, and did some work on my bookkeeping.
In the weeks following my visit to Mona Vale, I slowly finished reading through my diaries and at the end here were the themes: an unease in my work and a deep loneliness. I have a wonderful circle of friends who are loving and supportive but I’m no one’s First Person – the first person they want to share good news with, the first person they want to share bad news with, the first person they want to see in the day. My marriage collapsed just about five years ago. I’ve grown and learned and travelled. I’m good in my own skin and in my own company. I do believe that you aren’t ready to fully be with someone else if you aren’t comfortable being on your own. Now, I’ve done that – I’ve been complete, on my own, for half a decade. I want more, I think I’m ready for more.
And, ironically, the Monday after that Saturday trip to Mona Vale I was made redundant. Since the initial shock wore off, I’ve been a much happier person. Poorer, but happier. No more fighting to try to like that job more. In a way, that’s one problem solved.
A bit about Mona Vale
Mona Vale was known as Bongin Bongin to the Aboriginal inhabitants of the area prior to the English invasion.
The first land grants were made in April 1813 to Robert Campbell (1769-1846) who possessed 700 acres that extended from Mona Vale to the end of Newport Beach. It developed into a market gardening area specialising in tomatoes grown in glasshouses – an industry which attracted many Croatian migrants. After World War II it was transformed into the residential community we see now.
The 2016 census counted 10,670 people in Mona Vale, of these 71 (0.7%) identified as being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage. Seventy-one percent of Mona Valeans were Australian born, but 30% had both parents born overseas. Eighty-five percent only spoke English at home with other languages including Serbian (1.1%), German (1%), and Croatian (1%).
Mona Vale is in the Northern Beaches Council Local Government Area, the State electorate of Pittwater (Rob Stokes, Liberal) and the Federal Division of Mackeller (Jason Falinski, Liberal).
In the 2017 Same Sex Marriage Postal Survey 84% of voters in Mackeller returned their ballots with 68% of them voting Yes and 32% voting No. Across NSW it was 58% Yes, 42% No, and nationwide it was 62% Yes and 42% No.
To get to Mona Vale I took the M30 bus from Newtown to Neutral Bay, and the B1 to Mona Vale ($4.09).
I had the Armchair Collective Salad with added grilled chicken (kale, carrot, red cabbage, cos lettuce, crushed toasted almond, avocado, cherry tomato, quinoa, sunflower seeds, preserved lemon dressing, garlic infused goat cheese) with a flat white coffee for $25.80.
At Bronze Kiosk I had a piccolo latte ($3). Then, lastly, a beer at Modus Operandi ($7).
I took the a bus to Manly, the ferry to Circular Quay, and train home ($15.42).